We’re writing to you today with some updates about COVID, program delivery, and travel advisories as we head into Fall 2021 Study Abroad Programs. Please read below for updates on: our UK programs, Thailand programs, and vaccination recommendations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to shift and to change, and we anticipate that it will continue to do so throughout the remainder of 2021 and beyond. As the Delta variant gains momentum around the world, we will continue to make changes to our on-site delivery. Some changes will require little action other than communication to all of our stakeholders, as is the case with the UK changes below, while others will demand swift action that alters the delivery plan for programs, as is the case with Thailand. We are asking all participants to proceed knowingly and willingly, and ask questions to their program coordinator.
On July 19th, 2021 the US Department of State elevated their advisory level for the UK, to a level 4 “Do Not Travel”. Also, the Center for Disease Control elevated their advisory level for the UK to their highest tier, level 4. These levels were changed because the “Delta variant” of COVID is spreading rapidly throughout the UK, and case numbers are higher than they have been since January of 2021.
The UK has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with roughly 69.5% of the population partially vaccinated, and 54% fully vaccinated. In comparison, in the USA 56.1% of the population is partially vaccinated and 48.6% is fully vaccinated. It appears as though the majority of the new COVID cases in the UK have occurred in the unvaccinated portion of the population. Though case numbers are up significantly, the hospitalization rate in the UK is down significantly compared to prior ‘spikes’. The UK government anticipates that the spread of the Delta variant will continue to generate high numbers of COVID cases, but with the most vulnerable members of the population vaccinated, the hospitalization rates are expected to remain lower than they had been during previous waves in the pandemic.
CIS Abroad plans to proceed with Fall 2021 programs in London. We are strongly encouraging all future participants on CIS Abroad programs to get vaccinated if they have not yet done so. We believe that COVID vaccinations, along with the risk mitigation steps that are in place through our UK academic partners, will create an environment that is similar to what students in the USA will be navigating this Fall term, especially those who attend universities in major US cities.
In early July, CIS Abroad decided to postpone the on campus arrival of the Fall 2021 students on the Semester in Thailand program (in the greater Bangkok area) because of a surge in COVID case numbers related to the Delta variant. We were concerned about the low vaccination rates in Bangkok, and the sharp increase in hospitalizations. We devised an alternate plan for our students to arrive into the southern island of Phuket, Thailand. Phuket’s vaccination rates are high and strict protocols are in place to ensure that the spread of COVID is minimalized. Currently, our Fall 2021 plan is to have students stay in the Phuket area, taking classes remotely, until the situation improves in Bangkok. If it is not improved, we will complete the semester on Phuket. Our academic partner hopes that we will be able to welcome study abroad students to the Bangkok campus and begin in-person instruction in October of 2021.
The Delta Variant is highly transmissible and is creating new waves of infections. The risk of serious illness to vaccinated individuals is significantly lower than it is for unvaccinated individuals. Where there are lower vaccination rates we are likely to see greater numbers of illness and hospitalizations, especially among the elderly and immuno-compromised. We must proceed with caution, as we do not want students in a situation where they can not get routine medical care or non-COVID-related emergency care.
We highly recommend that all study abroad students get vaccinated to help to protect themselves, our staff and partners, and their community abroad. We anticipate that there will be more regulations and restrictions in place for unvaccinated individuals around the world, as well as significant extra costs involved with isolation or quarantine. 98% of our summer participants and 99% of our fall participants report they are vaccinated.
Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns. We’d be happy to address these with you at any time.
Joe Debiec, VP of International Operations, and the CIS Abroad Risk Management Team